So, many of us were surprised that Peggy Young convinced the Supreme Court that she deserves a trial. It is never a good idea to bet on a Supreme Court case.
The short story of Peggy Young goes like this. Ms. Young worked for UPS delivering packages on its early morning shift. She unload from planes the packages that needed to be delivered first, then took them to their destination. Most of the rush packages were lightweight, such as envelopes with important documents that needed to be delivered first thing. Naturally the cost of early delivery is higher. So a box of office supplies or books or the new sofa is not usually among the early packages.
After Ms. Young learned that she had a high risk pregnancy, her doctor told her to avoid lifting more than 20 pounds. UPS requires that its workers be able to handle 70 pounds. But Ms. Young’s coworkers agreed to handle the heavy ones while she was pregnant. The company said that was not good enough. She did not meet the requirements of the job, and she needed to leave until she was cleared by her doctor to return to work. She left, lost her income and health insurance, and returned after the baby was born.
In a small company, where the 70 pound weight requirement was legitimate, this response would have been understandable, even generous in that they told her she could return. But in the case of UPS, employees in three non-pregnancy circumstances were given light duty jobs if they had lifting restrictions. One included workers injured on the job, one applied to those who had lost their commercial driving licenses, and the other gave light duty to workers who needed accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Supreme Court decided that this opened a question whether denying the pregnant worker this light duty work violates the Pregnancy Discrimination Act: “why, when the employer accommodated so many, could it not accommodate pregnant women as well?” Of course, other non-pregnant workers are also denied light duty work, so Ms. Young may or may not win at trial.
Two developments in the law make this scenario less likely to affect Maryland employees (Peggy Young is a Maryland citizen). First, the broad amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act expand coverage for people with temporary disabilities, including pregnancy restrictions. The other is a Maryland law, inspired by Ms. Young’s case, requiring employers of more than 15 employees to consider requests for accommodations and grant them unless they would cause undue hardship on the employer.
But nationwide, this Supreme Court case has positive implications for all types of discrimination charges, specifically approving certain kinds of circumstantial proof of discrimination.